– so I made my own exhibition catalogues by hand using photocopies, scrap paper, sticky tape and hand-typed titles. It has my artist essay, details of the development process and excerpts of the documentation –
Documentation from the other project I’ve been working on this year. For consistency this won’t be shown in my exhibition next week but it’s something that I’ve really enjoyed working on and plan to continue with. Its possible that eventually the strains of practice will come together in a future exhibition.
I heard Jonathan Jones talk about this particular artwork early this year when he did a guest lecture at the University of Wollongong.
It is described below:
Six walls covered in blue tarpaulin glow with filtered light from fluorescent tubes articulated in a continuous chevron design. The chevrons are derived from elements of traditional Koori (South Eastern Aboriginal) line work and resonate with Western minimalism.
While visitors are able to walk around the perimeter of the installation and bathe in its light, they are allowed only sightlines between each wall. This lack of physical access in untitled (the tyranny of distance) sets up a dynamic of intimacy versus exclusion alluding to a sense of longing, alienation and lost or secret histories.
untitled (the tyranny of distance) was conceived following the implementation of the continuing Northern Territory Intervention.(1) It is concerned with access and its prohibition and is particularly relevant at a time of changing government policies in relation to Indigenous housing.
This is an artwork by the established German artist Andreas Slominski, entitled ‘Stolen Bicycle Pump’, from 1998. What the viewer sees when they encounter this artwork is this object displayed in the gallery, and the placard that gives the title and the artist’s name. However this object is the result of a performance by Slominski, in which he went out in the cover of darkness to steal the pump. But instead of just taking the pump off the frame, Slominski used a hack-saw to painstaking removed the section of frame that the pump was attached to. The sheer absurdity of this action generated what Hoffman and Jonas referred to as a ‘unique way of story-telling’ where his performances have ‘become legendary and have been told, almost like fairytales, by visitors to exhibitions and by critics and fellow artists.
The object that the audience sees in the exhibition, the stolen bicycle pump, can be understood as a residue of the performed action – a form documentary evidence in its own right, and one that claims that this absurd action took place. And so while the audience has a direct experience of this ‘art object’, it is an experience that is marked by the absence of original experience – the act of stealing the pump. It is therefore a mediated experience.
Amelia Jones states ‘there is no possibility of an unmediated relationship to any kind of cultural product’. Jones expands on this point by arguing that the performance does not generate understanding in itself – it ‘relies not only on the authorial context of ‘signature’ but on a receptive context in which the interpreter or viewer may interact with [it]’. Furthermore ‘Documents of the … performance are just as contingent … in that the meaning that accrues to this action … Is fully dependent on the way in which the image is contextualized and interpreted’ (Jones 1997, p14)
That is to say, with reference to Slominski – what frames his performance as art instead of an act of vandalism and stealing – is the inclusion of the stolen object within the context of the gallery. Furthermore, this is reinforced through language where his name lends artistic authorship. The documentation of the performance which is sometimes included in exhibition publications provides a means of framing the event as a performance and something that actually happened (although it is possible that it was staged).
The object and the document rely on each other.
But most importantly they also rely on the audience’s own knowledge. We appreciate the complete absurdity of slominski’s actions because we have prior knowledge of the function of a bicycle pump. This prior information that we bring to art, and use to make sense of what is presented to us, is what Gail MacLachlan and Ian Reid refer to as ‘extra-textual’ information. They state ‘whatever we read [or see], we frame extratexually by drawing on our accumulated knowledge of the world, both experiential and textually mediated.
‘this is so contemporary’ by German artist Tino Sehgal was an artwork part of the 2005 Venice Biennial. Sandra Umathum describes the audience’s experience of this artwork:
‘Upon entering, the visitors were welcomed by a woman and two men. They sported the characteristic outfits worn by Biennial attendants but their behaviour had little in common with what was normally expected of museum attendants. They danced cheerfully towards newcomers from three different corners of the room, encircling them closer while singing, ‘Oh! This is so contemporary, contemporary, contemporary’. After half a minute they fell silent and stopped moving. Suddenly, the women said, ‘Tino Sehgal’, whereupon they all continued singing, ‘this is so contemporary’. Then one of the two men sang ‘2004’ before his colleague finished reciting the words that are usually to be found on signs in the exhibition space, ‘Courtesy Jon Mot Gallery’ (2009, p1).
This is characteristic of Sehgal’s practice. He creates what he calls ‘constructed situations’, in which the emphasis is the experience of the artwork. As Richard Julin states “The artwork is the situation that arises between the visitor and the interpreter who performs certain movements or says certain things”. Importantly the title of the artwork ‘this is so contemporary’ draws attention to this. While the title may be referring to formal aesthetic characteristics and modes of presentation that designate the artwork as being contemporary, there is another meaning of the word ‘contemporary’. It can also refer to something that is ‘happening, existing, living’ – something in the here and now.
The emphasis on the experiential is so great, that there is no documentation in any form, or at least no authorised versions of documentation. However, roweverather than producing experiential artworks as a means of resisting the commercialisation of his artworks, Tino’s practice is a way to challenge a culture based on materiality, and importantly one that, according to the artist, is fed by fossil fuels. It is a practice however that operates quite well within the museum context and art market, whereby Tino does permit re-performances and does sell his artwork.